USA, Argentina Set to Square Off in Semifinals

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER.

BY DENY GALLAGHER

On Tuesday, the United States has an opportunity to reach a cup final on the international stage for the first time since 2009. And much like that famed run at the Confederations Cup, the Stars and Stripes have to go through the first ranked team in the world to do so. With Lionel Messi and Argentina ahead of them, Tuesday’s match will undoubtedly join U.S. Soccer lore regardless of the outcome.

Know the Enemy: Argentina

Messi. Higuaín. Mascherano. These names have become commonplace in headlines and game stories worldwide. On Tuesday the United States is tasked with doing what so few countries in the Copa America Centenario have been able to do: slow down the four headed monster that is the Argentinian attack.

It is impossible to talk about Argentina and not devote at least a paragraph to the South American Savant, Lionel Messi. What more can be said about the Barcelona superstar that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum? When he’s not scoring, he’s providing great service into the box. When he’s not victimizing defenders off the dribble, he’s holding the ball to allow his teammates’ attacking runs to develop.

Simply put, he can do it all.

While Messi grabs the headlines, it is his star studded supporting cast that takes Argentina to the next level. The mere fact that guys like Sergio Aguero, Javier Pastore, Erik Lamela, and Angel Di Maria have come off the bench indicates the abundance of talent that manager Gerardo Martino has at his disposal.

In their incredible 4-1 victory over Venezuela, the side lined up in a 4-3-3 formation to maximize the potential of their attacking depth. While Argentina will more than likely conduct business as usual in terms of tactics in this one, the same can not be said for the United States.

The Past

A lot has changed since the last time the Americans were last in the Copa America semifinals. The year was 1995 and America was wrapped up in the O.J. Simpson trail, Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was the number one song on the charts, and Toy Story was among the top grossing movies.

More importantly to soccer fans, Major League Soccer was months away from beginning play.

The 1995 Copa America took place in Uruguay, and the Americans won Group C after a 3-0 thrashing of Argentina in the last match of group play. In the knockout round, the Americans defeated Mexico on penalties after the match ended scoreless. In the semifinal, the Stars and Stripes were pitted up against Brazil. A 13th minute Aldair goal proved to be the difference. The Americans finished fourth in the tournament after dropping a 4-1 decision to Colombia in the Third Place match. Joe-Max Moore scored the lone goal from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute.

The Present

As for the matter at hand, Tuesday night proves to be a rather large challenge for the United States. Over the course of the tournament, this side has been resilient in the face of adversity and injury. The question remains if the loss of Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, and Bobby Wood will prove to be too much for the CONCACAF side. On a positive note, the team gets DeAndre Yedlin back in the fold after missing the Ecuador match due to yellow card accumulation.

In the last match, Matt Besler proved to be a real revelation at left back. It has been widely speculated that with the return of Yedlin, Fabian Johnson will move back to the left side as well. With the new found depth at the position, Klinsmann could use Johnson to help bolster the attack instead. This could move Johnson back to left midfield, a position where he excelled this past season at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

The most interesting talking point ahead of this match is how the loss of Bedoya will impact the team’s formation. Considering the quality of the opposition and the side’s diminished depth, it would not be surprising to see Jurgen go with the 4-4-2. In such a formation, it makes a lot sense to have Darlington Nagbe as an attacking midfielder, while Michael Bradley plays a more defensive role to man mark Messi. This leaves to the likes of Fabian Johnson and Gyasi Zardes playing out wide.

What appears to be more likely is that Klinsmann sticks with the 4-3-3. The formation is more aggressive and allows the United States to set the pace of the game early. In this formation, Johnson and Graham Zusi are plugged in for Jones and Bedoya, while Christian Pulisic or Darlington Nagbe replace Bobby Wood.

Projected XI

(4-3-3) GUZAN; YEDLIN, BROOKS, CAMERON, BESLER; ZUSI, BRADLEY, JOHNSON; ZARDES, DEMPSEY, NAGBE